Blessed with a mild climate, gorgeous scenery and abundant wildlife to go along with its expansive coastline, South Africa has a wealth of attractions on offer. Should you consider a ten-day visit, here is an itinerary that encompasses the best of this land.
As one of the most popular ports of arrival, hip and colourful Cape Town, nestled on South Africa's mountainous Atlantic Coast, is worth at least three days of exploration.
Given the famous unpredictable weather of Cape Town, the Table Mountain is usually recommended as the first place to visit. Arrange for your tickets in advance to take a cable car ride up to the top for a stunning panorama of the city, surrounding peaks and the ocean.
For your second day, a trip to Robben Island - site of the prison where worldwide icon Nelson Mandela was imprisoned - will make for a great introduction to South African history. Ferries leave every two hours from the V & A Waterfront near Table Mountain. Again, tickets bought well in advance and a visit first thing in the morning is recommended.
You will be back in the afternoon to enjoy a meal at one of the many lively harbour-facing restaurants on the V & A waterfront. This is a great place to stock up on souvenirs as well; find your way to the Watershed for lovely indigenous and recycled merchandise.
Should you finish well in time, use the evening for a drive through the colourful neighbourhood of Bo-Kaap, to have a great photo op amid a delightful pallet of brightly painted buildings and ethnic restaurants. Wrap up your day's activities by watching the sunset at Camps Bay.
For your third day, a private tour to the Cape Winelands is a great option. A private tour is highly recommended so that you can sample the world-class wines without worrying about getting behind the wheel when you're done. There are several routes on offer, such as the Stellenbosch, Robertson, Hermanus and Eglin Valley just to name a few. Your tour guide can provide suggestions on the route that best suits your needs and interests, arranging for your wine tastings along the way.
Spend the night in the beautiful town of Franschhoek, for a combination of culture and scenery. There are many wine-related options here, such as tastings at heritage estates to go along with a highly-rated motor museum that boasts a collection of antique and vintage cars. There are also numerous outdoor attractions, such as the scenic Helshoogte Pass and hiking in the lovely Mont Rochelle Nature Preserve. In just one day you can get a true taste of the beauty of the Western Cape.
For those who'd rather taste salt water than grapes, a Great White Shark cage diving tour is a once-in-a-lifetime adventure that is unique to South Africa. Whilst you can sign up for this activity at many towns along the coast, the tourist town of Gansbaai is the most famous and hence best geared for this. A safety briefing will be followed by a five-mile boat trip to Dyer Island, where after anchoring in a protected bay, your guide will start chumming the waters. Once the sharks arrive, there will be ample opportunity to take pictures of these impressive creatures before slipping into a steel cage for an up-close and personal view of these majestic predators.
Finish the evening in Hermanus, a half an hour drive away to have a “whale” of a time. It is possible to have sightings from land, should the gentle sea animals be visiting during the season.
At this point, should you have a longer holiday horizon, you can take a tour of the gorgeous Garden Route that stretches eastward along the coast.
Johannesburg to Kruger National Park - Panorama route
In order to hit the highlights within a ten-day timeframe, your next move is to fly to Johannesburg from Hermanus and rent a car for a trip along the beautiful Panorama Route between Johannesburg and Hoedspruit (or alternately, take a guided tour on your way back). The highlight of this trip is Blyde River Canyon National Park - a natural pearl located a few hours drive from Johannesburg. This stunning panorama looks like a smaller, greener Grand Canyon. From observation points at the top, you can look out at the iconic 'Three Rondavels' - a trio of eroded peaks that stand out among the already impressive landscape of the Drakensberg Mountains.
Nearby are the Bourke's Luck Potholes - a series of surreal rock formations formed by swirling eddies at the confluence of two rivers. There are trails and bridges that allow great vantage points for this fascinating natural attraction.
Kruger National Park
The next three days should be reserved for the quintessential African experience - a safari. There are options for all tastes and budgets here, but there are distinct advantages for using a tour operator and safari guide. First, there's a measure of safety and peace of mind by leaving the driving (and tracking) to the professionals. Second, a private guide will know where and how to find the animals you came to see, which is nowhere near as easy as it sounds. Tracking down 'The Big Five' takes skill, as well as time, which is why you should budget multiple days for your safari tour. Third, your guide can sign you up for special encounters within the safari experiences that are tailored to your interest, be it walking with lions, visiting a cheetah sanctuary or doing a night safari.
Generally, guests are woken early in the morning, given breakfast, then embark on a morning safari drive. Lunch is served around midday followed by another drive in the late afternoon/evening. When the sun goes down and it’s time for dinner, one of the great pleasures of an African safari is the chance to dine outside, listening to the sounds of the bush around a fire.
In addition to 'The Big Five', most visitors will see impala, giraffe, warthog, zebra, kudu, and a myriad of birds while exploring the park. Animal lovers will rejoice in the abundant opportunities for close-up wildlife viewing of some of the most exotic creatures on the planet before either flying or driving back to Johannesburg.
Spend your last day taking in South Africa's rich cultural heritage in its largest city--Johannesburg. There are many sites of historical interest to keep you busy, from the grim reminders presented at the Apartheid Museum, to the ramparts of Constitution Hill, which once housed such famous prisoners as Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi. Or for a more in-depth experience, take a tour of Soweto Township for a glimpse of the cultural landscape that sparked such dramatic change.
Ten days is just enough time to scratch the surface of Africa's most diversified, comfortable and accessible tourist destination. Whether it's beaches, mountains or bush safaris, South Africa is a world-class adventure where every day of your itinerary offers a once-in-a-lifetime memory.
Ben Pastore is a freelance travel writer and public speaker with firsthand experience in 69 countries across all seven continents. As the author of the witty travel guide - You Can Keep Your Adventure, Just Leave Me the Toilet Paper - Ben’s favourite activities are travelling the globe, putting pins on his world map, and planning his next trip.
Image details and licenses: https://flic.kr/p/9bx1RH (steadistate, CC BY-NC 2.0), https://flic.kr/p/wihxoG (South African Tourism, CC BY 2.0), https://flic.kr/p/2cPKa1 (bellamy.andrew, CC BY 2.0), https://flic.kr/p/wiSxz5 (South African Tourism, CC BY 2.0)